juni 7, 2012

Dramatherapy in Bosnia – experiences from inside

Door Giselle Vegter

“It’s just a footmassage” says Ilil, with an inviting smile, while I am moving my feet from left to right and imagine the roots under them growing into the earth and my body as a little tree in the wind. A simple exercise, but still I need some courage to do it. Around me seven women, a bit shy in this new movement, maybe we feel vulnerable in our craddling bodies. I am in a cold room in an old school in the village of Kravica, a Serbian village in Eastern Bosnia.  Outside it is almost freezing, the bright sun is pearing through the curtains, the little electric heater does the best he can. Oriental music is guiding us. “The rest of your body is only following the footmassage”, yes, that is true, but in fact we are in less than five minutes dancing together in a circle.

It is our first workshop with women in the region of Bratunac, close to Srebrenica. Ilil leads the work based on dramatherapeutical principles. I join, experience and witness from inside.

Working in Kravica Kravica is a Serbian place with a burden. When we told a Muslim friend we are giving a workshop here, a shade of deep pain covered her face. The Serbian army killed between 1000 and 1500 Bosnijak men in a storage in Kravica, we pass it every day, the holes of the grenates are still visible.

When I saw her face, I caught myself with the comparison between the Serbian and Bosnijak women ; who has suffered more and with whom do I work? I notice I compare victimhood, which confuses me. As if the sort or amount of pain can be measured. I also notice how quickly one –even unconsciously- starts to think in terms of collective guilt, fate, or  victimization. What does the Serbian army of 1995 has to do with the Serbian women in this cold classroom? But still I hope soon to start also the workshops in the Muslim village Konjević Polje nearby.

We warm our hands by rubbing them and putting them over our eyes, the warmth is relaxing our face. In a second Ilil and me realize that this is the same gesture of a Muslim prayer. I look around, but all the women are following the gesture and relaxing. On the ground I am caught by the colors of the blankets we bought to cover the filthy floor: red, white and blue, the colors of the flag of the Republika Srpska. A coincidence, I bought them because the colors were bright. Will the women notice this? No, they like them because they are very warm for their feet. And what if this was Konjević Polje? Than I probably had been nervous because the Dutch flag was on the ground.

Here, I stumble every day over minor details, cultural codes,  which taxi driver I ask to bring me where or to fetch children from. I am constantly aware that everything we do or say can have an unexpected harming or opposite effect of our intentions. But it seems I am too carefull, and life more normal. Untill the moment one runs against another hidden sign of the past.

I still feel the warmth of my hands on my face. We lay them on other parts of our body. Step by step we discover how we exist simply now and here, by making ourselves tangible in the space. We move by breath and stretch our limbs in the air. We are there. There is a silent and concentrated atmosphere. We encounter what is alive and what is hidden. Our inner powers, our will, our shame, our sorrow, our life energy. We don’t speak about problems – we witness ourselves in connection with others. By energy, movement, joy, the unconscious language of the body and above all: safety.

How will the women receive this kind of work? Will there be a difference because of our cultural backgrounds – has this search into ourselves an universal understanding?

A space of our own For the next exercise Ilil asks us to find ourselves a place in the space.  Nobody moves. I go in the corner on myself, but all the women stay in the circle. Nobody dares to step out of the circle. Freedom of choice is something precious one has to learn, – that is at least my experience. I wonder what individual freedom means to these women, to follow your own wishes, to do what you want.  Privacy is not really a common value in the community life here. How then to distuinguish between your individual needs and the influence on your mind and thoughts by what the environment thinks?

The exercise continues with breathing and giving carefull attention to the places that hurt or are tensed. We move these places with our breath. We close our eyes, music is helping us. When I look around after a while, I see the circle is broken. A few women have turned and taken a spot somewhere else.

Ilil invites us to draw ourselves on paper. We were afraid this might feel childish for the women, but that is not so. With concentration everyone is drawing silently herself – abstract, colourfull drawings are the result.  We tell the others what we draw and why like this. I find it quite amazing how easy and simple  the women can give words to a certain ‘inner self’. One woman explains how the whirling yellow circles stand for a strong free feeling of spreading and waving her arms and a thick bleu ball for the tension in her lower back, a memory of  an old pain which holds her still. Something that has not been eased yet.

Out of the drawings we chose one element that we will bring into movement. In front of our pictures we dance, on the search for this movement. It is not easy to stay in eye contact with your own drawing, there is a bit shame and laughter. I also feel I have now to enter more an intimate zone in myself – a strange, exciting feeling. While looking to my coulours and forms I have to take myself serious: I feel fragile while putting this tensefull breast in movement, emotions come up. I also feel the safety of the exercise; it is only me who is seeing me and who is protecting me. The emotions ease and make space for a forcefull and silent connection. On the other side of the room I see one woman wildly swinging with her arms up and eyes closed, her back turned against the group– she seems to feel free and happy. I see two other women hardly moving, their bodies are quite closed up, only their feet move. They are looking around for support, whispering, laughing, Ilil invites them to dare to concentrate on their moving bodies– to connect to this body that is them, but it seems not yet to find its space and joy.  Their bodies, their minds, their spirits- maybe they are afraid to lose each other. Maybe that is something which plays the biggest role here – and elsewhere. Being afraid to lose the connection – to be alone.

After the first day of working with the women essential questions run through my head.

The question of choice plays a big role. How far are we able -here, in this village, in this country – but also in my Western European life-  to choose our space? We have to conquer this. It was already a step to chose a place for ourselves in the room. And if we are able, is our surrounding allowing us?

Can we say “no” to each other and hold or replace our own borders? Yes. Maybe. But what if it is against that what is said to be normal in a community or family?

Are we allowed to show ourselves? Are we allowed to think for ourselves? Can we follow our own truth and wishes? If this is already a step in my society, one could consider it here as a deed of courage.

Authentic movement We work in couples. We teach one and another our personal movement. Then Ilil asks us to explore further the movement of the other, while this partner is witnessing. This is an interesting exchange, I’m discovering a movement in my knees, a place where my partner has felt tension, but I am free to move my knees in circles, up and down, slow and quick. My partner watches silently all the possibilities her movement has. I am giving her her movement back. By this ‘dialogue’ one sees a part of oneself in another body. A special and rare experience. Everyone is slightly surprised and happy to see how their movements are showing this beautiful thing of our bodies; the talent to change a perception -how you think you are- in an experience of transformation -how everything can be differently formed.

This exercise touches an important insight on the relationship between ourselves and our experiences. We are often used to quick, unconscious categorization and even judgements on ourselves. This colors our experiences.

The exchanged personal movements have in their simplicity shown that the things in us can also be regarded differently – when we have some distance to look at it and when we see how another dynamics gives it other directions. Things are not just there in one meaning. There are always other ways of looking at it, by which it can change.

While working I witness how subtle but insisting Ilil stresses this way of looking.

“Maybe it is also different” she repeats often. The women are by this sometimes a bit lost, but they feel it is right what is guiding them. They are confirmed in following their own wishes. Do they want to be massaged differently? Do they want to be hold longer while giving their weight? Is this really the tensefull place or is it two centimeters to the left? Express what you need.

Ilils formulations keep the space open for ones own perception. To just label a ‘nothing’ on what we see and hear from each other. To think ‘this is what is’ and not ‘ this means…’

The women are treated as  important individuals with an own will and own borders. I witness a togetherness that slightly changes from “we are a group joining a workshop” into “we are these seven different women working and sharing together”

In our aftertalk they confirm the space they have felt and getting in contact with another way of “knowing”. Not by the words, but by being in their bodies, in themselves. As one woman formulates it in the end: “ I feel a lot of more breath in myself. I am bigger”.

The workshop was short, but we can look back on a first step that will leave traces. We should and will continu this work. I start to believe more and more in the possibilities creative therapy has in another cultural context. Exactly because it is creative, it becomes universal. Dramatherapy is not bound to only words and by that is perfectly able to  go away from the danger of verbal communication in different cultural systems.

Sign of the past I am having dinner with a Dutch-Bosnian friend and I tell him about the work in Kravica. “Which school?” he asks me “the old one next to the new building?” Yes, that is the building. “White with bleu windows?” yes, that one. He tells me that Serbian men were held in this school and executed there. I have often asked myself why the school is not being used anymore. “Now you know why” he answers.

I don’t know how to react. I am again running against a sign of the past. Our good work is being down in spaces where people are killed. I don’t know if it is true. I will find it out as soon as I am back. And then? Then we will have to work in the same spaces again.

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